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With the 2020 Australian International Coffee Awards on the horizon, Danes Specialty Coffee reflects on its 2018 and 2019 Champion Australian Roaster titles and how it stays ahead of the curve.

There is an old adage, “getting to the top is hard, staying there is even harder”. Devising ways to continually improve and build on achievements can be an immense challenge for any individual or business, especially those in highly competitive industries such as coffee.

One business that appears to have found a formula for sustained success is Danes Specialty Coffee.

The New South Wales based roaster celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019 in style, winning its second consecutive Champion Australian Roaster title at the Australian International Coffee Awards (AICA).

“It’s a fantastic achievement for our team and our customers. The rule of thumb remains the same since we started back in the 90s – there is no shortcut to quality,” says Graeme Powell, General Manager at Danes Specialty Coffee.

“Our desire to continue to push the boundaries on quality and roast profiling for the specialty coffee market is a never-ending journey. We’re seeing better and higher quality coffees come directly from the source, as processing methods evolve to become more meticulous.”

The 2018 edition of AICA saw more than 750 coffees entered from more than 150 local and international exhibitors. These numbers rose in 2019, with more than 800 coffees from 180 exhibitors.

“It’s the only international coffee roasting competition in Australia, judged by a panel of respected industry peers. The level of competition is extremely high, and the standard is always increasing,” Graeme says.

“The competition provides us the best platform to calibrate our coffee and our performance as a roaster. Our team has always viewed AICA as a challenge to improve and develop both personally and collectively.”

In the most recent AICA, Danes received 10 medals. It won the Gold Medal in the Espresso Blend and Pour Over categories, for its Ascension and Kenya Gakundu respectively. It also received a Silver Medal for its Kenya Ndiani cold brew coffee.

Judges praised Ascension for its blueberry milk chocolate front, and clean, creamy aftertaste. They commented it had good sweetness and a balance between bitterness and acidity.

Judges also commended the Kenya Gakundu. It was described as having aromas of sweet blackcurrant and apricot. Sweetness and structure with blueberry, maple syrup, and plum notes. High quality citric and tartaric acid with great complexity, and a pleasant, sticky mouthfeel that possesses a long, sweet aftertaste.

According to Graeme, receiving high commendations from AICA’s judges was a result of diligent preparation and training.

“In the leadup to 2019, we simulated the AICA competition’s guidelines and timeframes to better understand how they would impact our entries. This provided valuable feedback on some of the variables and allowed us to better prepare our coffees,” he says.

“It’s a fantastic achievement for our team and our customers. To win it back to back is confirmation of the high standard of quality and consistency our coffees deliver for our cafés and customers, week in week out.”

After being crowned the Champion Australian Roaster for the second year in a row, Danes was invited to the Royal Melbourne Show to run a pop-up coffee bar in the Winning Tastes Pavilion.

“This was an unrivalled opportunity to showcase our coffee to Melbourne. We served over 15,000 coffees in a marathon 11-day stint. It’s a great event that our team really enjoyed,” Graeme says.

Outside of the scope of competitive coffee, Danes is channelling its resources into reducing its environmental footprint. The business’s head office and roastery have been solar powered for the past year and it is involved in a range of sustainability themed initiatives.

“Our recently introduced Flavour Cup takeaway cup range is a sustainably sourced plant-based product which provides us one of the most environmentally sound cups available. They cups are also defined in metric measures, so baristas and customers know the exact size and coffee ratios of the cups,” Graeme says.

“We are also participating in a pilot program initiated by the Environmental Protection Authority. We have partnered with Cup to Crop and our cafés to divert even more waste from landfill.”

A growing demand for sustainability and traceability is changing the future of the coffee industry, but Graeme says consumers are also becoming more educated about coffee in general. He adds that embracing this consumer evolution has played a key factor in Danes’ continued success.

“Consumers are now clearer on the difference between commercial coffee and true specialty coffee. Part of this is that baristas are better trained and best practice brewing principles continue to become the new basic standard,” he says.

Danes is embracing the rise of educated customers and prides itself on building its relationship on dialogue and transparency.

“The knowledge gap between customers and roasters is getting smaller. So, we’ve changed the way we talk with our customers by educating them on the qualities and flavours of our coffees,” Graeme says.

“We do this with a uniquely descriptive language that empowers the customer to identify the flavours they find in each of our coffees. Our customers know exactly what flavours they can expect within each bag.”

Danes illustrates its coffees to customers using three “flavour tribes” to characterise its beans: Chocolates and caramels, nuts and spices, and fruits and berries.

Further, each coffee has a pentagonal spidergraph on its packaging to represent its balance of flavour, body, sweetness, aroma, and finish.

“Together these tools provide a clear, simple language to quickly and easily define the subtleties of our coffees for our customer. Our flavour language is accessible for all levels of coffee knowledge,” Graeme says.

“We make it easy for coffee drinkers to articulate their taste preferences and match them to their palate and brew method. It’s helpful when exploring new flavours, which we continue to uncover and share with our customers.”

Although it has been an eventful and successful few years for Danes, the roaster refuses to sit on its laurels. In addition to going green, Danes has opened a new flagship store titled Infusion on Clarence in the Sydney CBD and is continuing to explore technology that will improve its end product.

“We are continuing to evolve a more agile, high quality operational environment and team culture. It’s important to focus on embracing systems that not only support the business but translate to quality service and relationships at all levels,” Graeme says.

“We have extensive longstanding relationships across the industry, from brokers to individual growers, and we are continuing to develop new sources.  With 25 years of innovation guiding us, we are always exploring premium coffees to find those exceptional flavours for our cafes and customers.”

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